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Category archive: Adult education

Saturday April 05 2008

Yes, Frank Chalk offers a different perspective on the row about military recruiters in schools:

If you are born into the Underclass, doomed to attend a dustbin of a school, then a career in the Army might well be your only ticket out of the slums. Yes, if you are unlucky you might be shot by some toerag in Iraq or Afghanistan; but if you manage to avoid that unfortunate outcome, then you can pick up a decent pension after 22 years or look for another employer who will snap you up, knowing that unlike most applicants; a) you will actually turn up to work and b) you will get on with things that you might not want to do without moaning too much.

Alternatively you could of course just remain in the Estate from Hell, where there are no employers and you stand a good chance of being shot by a rival drugs dealer or ending up behind bars for most of your life.  The NUT would like to remove your only hope of escape.

Well, not quite.  You still can join the army, even if your teachers don’t want you to think about it.  Teachers not wanting you to think about it might even encourage you.  I’m about a fortnight late with this posting.  But, this is not an argument that changes very much from one century to the next, so I’m going to forgive myself for that.

Wednesday February 13 2008

imageSome years ago I met Peter Ryley, at a conference in Manchester (I think), at which we both were speakers (again: I think), and we got on well, despite coming from distinct (if just about touching - via “anarchism") parts of the intellectual landscape.  So when I came across his blog, I read.  I continue to read.

Peter’s biggest meme just now is the UK Government’s decision to cut back on further education, of the sort that involves a change of direction and hence studying something different to a level already reached in some previous course of university study.

I have several relevant prejudices which I will list briefly, by way of an explanation for not knowing what I think about this argument.

First, I am against Government financial “support” for anything.  I want a free market in education, and in as much else as can possibly be contrived.  Regulars here will know this.

But second, my time at university left me with a prejudice in favour of “mature students”.  This is not a universal prejudice.  Another common prejudice is that mature students are spongers who refuse to grow up and work for a living.  Fair enough, there were a few of them at my university also.  But my experience was mostly that mature students, especially those who had already done real jobs for a while but who were back doing education for a change of career direction, were people who had decided to be there and who were there with a plan of learning and a real gusto to pitch into the material, rather than adolescents who had merely arrived there along tracks placed in front of them by others (like teachers and parents) and who tended to behave like overgrown schoolchildren.  University teachers loved mature students, because they were engaged students, and they thus had someone to engage with.  They could really get stuck into teaching them.  I can entirely understand why someone like Peter Ryley would be distraught at the idea of people like this no longer being so abundant in universities, and the drifting child syndrome becoming even more dominant than it is now.

The current trend says: spend a hugely excessive time doing education.  Then work without interruption.  Then “retire” and do nothing but arse around until you die.  I say: jump back and forth between all three constantly, from start to finish.

Meanwhile for a good summary of the current state of this debate, I recommend this, which I of course got to via a Peter Ryley posting.

Tuesday December 25 2007

A few months back, my friend Gerald Hartup had a stroke.  That means – and meant - brain damage, surely the scariest kind of damage there is.  But, the prognosis is good, as is often the case with stroke victims, I now learn.  Much depends on the attitude of the stroke victim him or herself.  Do they keep a positive mental attitude and keep battling away at their exercises, mental and physical, or do they let their circumstances defeat them?  As in the more usual sort of battle, morale apparently counts for a lot, and can be decisive.  And Gerald’s fighting spirit is superb.  If anyone truly deserves to have a Happy Christmas this Christmas, it is Gerald Hartup.

I know these things because I am one of the many friends of Gerald who have been visiting him regularly to help him with his various exercises, in my case sounding out words and helping Gerald to link them to appropriate images.  Every time I visit now, I feel I detect definite improvement, both in Gerald’s fluency with the exercises, and in the variety of words he is able to manage spontaneously, so to speak.  One of the oddities of his condition is that in the midst of failing to say a quite easy and short word with, for instance, an R in among it, he is able to exclaim “Christ!”, with no difficulty, to communicate his frustration.

By the way, I am writing about Gerald and about working with Gerald with his enthusiastic permission.  If anything, I owe Gerald profuse apologies for having taken so long to get around to doing this.  I hope that writing about him and his circumstances on Christmas day will please him.  I believe it will.


That photo of Gerald was taken some time before disaster struck, but happily it remains a good likeness now. Strokes can wreck the whole look of your face.  Happily that hasn’t happened with Gerald.

There are all kinds of things to be said about the experience of teaching Gerald, if teaching is what it is.  I will end my mentioning one particular thing in this first Gerald posting, because it concerns the Christmas present I have offered to contribute towards buying for him.

Teachers often have an understandably jaundiced view of the contribution or lack of it that computers can make to education and training.  You’d think that by now computers might have started to play a big part in teaching basic literacy to children, yet this is still done mostly with paper and pencil and the like, with a human teacher presiding.

The problem is motivation.  Computers aren’t now motivated, unless you motivate them.  They are like bicycles, rather than cars.  You don’t steer them only.  You have to drive them forwards with your own efforts.  That may change, and when it does I expect the impact of computers on education, for even the most intellectually indolent of children, to be spectacular.  But for now, if you don’t supply the propulsion to a computer, it will just sit there, do nothing, and achieve nothing.

But Gerald is motivated.  Christ yes, as he would now put it.  Unlike children, who often don’t really get what they are missing in not being able to read and write, Gerald knows with hideous intensity exactly what he is missing, and desperately wants it back again.  So when, last week, he told me about the computer program he had been shown by one of the local authority experts who has been helping him and monitoring his progress, I could at once see what a difference it might make.  Had been making already, in fact, because he showed me how it worked, and managed to communicate to me that he had worked at it for several sessions, each an hour or more in length.  Here at last was a way for him to exercise his mind without imposing on any of his friends, for hour after hour after hour.  It could make all the difference.  But then, when he showed the program to me, it maddeningly announced that his trial period was over, and could he please pay if he wanted to do any more.  I at once offered to contribute towards the cost of its purchase, an offer I repeated by phone to Gerald’s wife, and repeat now.

Well, that’s enough about this for now.  I now have to rush off to share Christmas with my family.  I will have much more to say about Gerald, and about teaching Gerald.  For, whatever Gerald may or may not be learning from working with me, I am certainly learning a great deal from working with him.  Happy Christmas once again to him, and to all.

Wednesday December 19 2007

The invaluable Instapundit links to the New York Times, concerning a physic professor called Walter:

Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T.  And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.

Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics.  Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts of.


He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.

I have always thought that the internet was an open goal for not-for-profit educational and propaganda organisations.  Well, once I understood the internet I did.  I mean, if you were a financial contributor to M.I.T., wouldn’t this be just the kind of thing you’d want to see being done with your money?  Giving the knowledge away, and getting a huge response.  Perfect.

There’s a lot of pessimism here in Britain about the future of science education.  This kind of thing might help to turn things around.  As Glenn Reynolds says:

Traditionally, teaching has played second-fiddle to scholarship at many institutions because it can’t get external plaudits. I wonder if online courses will change that.

I hope there’ll be lots more stories of this sort to discover and to link to from here in the months and years to come.

Sunday December 16 2007

The Fat Man on a Keyboard writes about outdated attitudes towards mature students:

The Torygraph gets worked up about University Challenge.

Apparently, it “stands accused of neglecting undergraduates in favour of teams stacked with “ringers”, in the shape of mature and graduate students”.

I have news for them, most mature students are undergraduates and there are now more of them than the kids straight from school. ...

I was myself a sort-of mature student at my second university, Essex.  What made me still immature was that I was still very immature, but what made me mature was that I had made a conscious decision, myself, to be there, and I had a pretty clear idea of what I was trying to accomplish.  And I was busy accomplishing it.  (What that was is beside my point here.  Maybe later.) I met other mature students at Essex, and they all had this same quality, of self-directedness, of having decided to be there, of having a plan which they were following.  The academics loved us, because we were making proper use of them and of their efforts and of their expertise.  We aggressed on their various agendas, and they heaved sighs of relief, because it was no longer up to them to rouse us from apathy.  Meanwhile the students who had simply idled into university like cargo wagons being shunted along rails by outside forces - their parents, “society”, and so on - were, as often as not, wasting their time and lots of other people’s money.

So, I wholly agree with the Fat Man’s take on this, and look forward to the day when all students at universities are mature.  Not necessarily in the sense of being old, but in the sense of having decided to be there.

In the same spirit, the Fat Man is disgusted at how the government has been cutting back on adult education.  Being a (free market, low/no taxes, etc.) libertarian, I am prejudiced in favour of public spending cuts, and I don’t regard cutting state funded adult education as an attack on adult education as such, especially not in the age of the internet.  Likewise, I actually favour the recent increase in the cost to students of higher education, because I think it will cause students to ask themselves: Do I really want/need to be doing this?  Prices do that, I think.  I think making students feel the price of what they are doing and how they are living makes them more, in a word, mature.

But, it is important to me not to link only to - and not to be read here only by - people with identical political prejudices to mine.